In an alarming incident, which took place in Pokhran Field Firing Range on the India-Pakistan International Border in Jaisalmer on Sunday, three specialists of the Indian Army sustained injuries when the barrel of a cannon cracked and burst during its testing. The injured were rushed to army hospital and are said to be out of danger.
Sources said that the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), a towed 155 mm/52 calibre howitzer that is being developed for the Indian Army by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in collaboration with private sector was being tested at the Pokhran Field Firing Range for the last three to four days.
The towed artillery gun (155mm x 52 Calibre), which is part of the import embargo, has been developed by Bharat Forge Limited. Called Bharat 52 and classified as an Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), it is the first gun built by the Kalyani Group.
An email asking for comments from Bharat Forge Limited from www.indianpsu.com did not elicit any response.
Weighing 15 tonnes, Bharat 52 has a firing range of more than 48 km and has a self-propelled ground speed of 20 km per hour. It can fire six rounds in 30 seconds.
ATAGS is considered to be one of the most advanced field artillery systems in the world but India is yet to induct them. In 2016 India ordered 145 howitzers (also an artillery gun) from the US for $750 million. The 155mm x 39 calibre ultra-light howitzers have a range of 24-39 km, which is much lower than the Bharat 52 ATAGS.
This matter assumes more importance ever since the talk of corporatization of Ordinance Factory Boards has started. C. Srikumar, General Secretary of All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) told www.indianpsu.com that it is understood that the barrel was manufactured by Bharat Forge Limited and now, why there is no hue and cry on this.
Srikumar said “this is how private sector will manufacture sub-standard equipment once the Ordinance Factory Boards are out of the scene. That is why a big lobby is after Ordinance Factories to corporatize the OFB which we are opposing and fighting”.
Pramod Joshi, senior journalist and Editor of Defence Monitor Magazine has a neutral view on this. He told www.indianpsu.com that this is not the first time that such an accident has taken place during testing of arms or weapons. He recalls several incidents involving weaponry of the DRDO, Arjun Tanks and AWACS as well in which some lives were lost.
Joshi adds that this incident should not be seen as a comparison between ordinance versus private players. He says that it is a matter of investigation whether the technology being used by the private player was transferred to it by DRDO or was imported by the company. He said that a thorough investigation should be carried out by a team of experts to investigate the incident and an expert view is required to find out whether Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were followed or not.
With the private sector being allowed to take part in defence production, Indian companies have been keen participants. And the talk of corporatization or privatization of Indian Ordinance Factories have given birth to a big debate – whether or not the Indian defence sector should be privatized!